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Dean George is the Marketing Specialist and Content Creator for Dental Insurance
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How Eating Disorders Hurt Oral Health

Aug 26, 2014

By Dean George

When I was younger food and I had a mutual understanding.  I could eat whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted, and the only weight I’d gain would be if I went too long without a haircut. 

Of course there were mitigating factors other than teenage metabolism. I mean, I’m sure the two hours of basketball we played after school every day, the daily autopsy of our “what-is-it?”cafeteria food and our diligent pursuit of chasing bad girls and good grades (or was it good girls and hiding from bad grades?) were contributing factors.

Most guys that reminisce about the “glory days” recall scoring the go-ahead touchdown against an arch rival or hitting the winning basket at the buzzer of an important basketball game. My glory days were the ability to out eat half the football team and have the coach tell me the next day in practice I needed to eat more if I was ever going to weigh 150 pounds.

Suffice it to say that’s no longer a problem – according to both my old coach and the bath scales.

Unfortunately, eating disorders are a very real problem for many kids today. WedMD says that one study found that 36% of adolescent girls thought they were overweight and 59% were actively trying to lose weight. More than 90% of diagnosed eating disorders are girls.

Aside from the physical and psychological toll these disorders cause, they often result in oral health issues, too. Below are examples of three of the most common eating disorders and the dental issues they cause:

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious eating disorder (or actually non-eating disorder) that involves a pathological fear of weight gain. Those suffering from anorexia exhibit faulty eating habits, malnutrition and are obsessed with body weight. One in every 100 females is affected by anorexia, and teens with anorexia are at 15% below their ideal body weights.

Bulimia Nervosa involves eating huge amounts of food, and then purging by self-induced vomiting, inappropriately using laxatives or diuretics or obsessive exercising. Bulimia often starts in the late teens and early 20’s and is often accompanied by depression and guilt. Bulimia sufferers usually have low self-esteem and a morbid fear of becoming obese. Some studies say bulimia tends to be genetic.

Binge Eating Disorder, or Compulsive Overeating is characterized by uncontrollable eating and weight gain. Binge eaters eat beyond the point of feeling full and often eat due to stress, depression or anxiety. Binge eaters often feel unable to control what they eat or the quantity. Those suffering from this disorder share many of the same symptoms as those with bulimia except they don’t purge after eating.

How Eating Disorders Affect Oral Health It isn’t unusual for those suffering from eating disorders to experience tooth decay, sometimes extensive decay leading to tooth loss. It is also common for them to need extensive and repeated dental work. Common dental treatment for those with eating disorders can include tooth filling replacement, root canal and periodontal surgery, and tooth extractions.

All three eating disorders are susceptible to stomach acid regurgitation, but for different reasons. Anorexics are susceptible because they usually have no food in their stomach. On the other hand, bulimia and binge eaters also experience stomach acid problems, the former from self-induced vomiting, the latter from overeating.

Vomiting for either reason allows unhealthy stomach acid to invade the oral cavity, exposing the teeth and enamel to its corrosive effects.  The harmful stomach acid also impacts the backs of teeth since they are the most exposed when a person vomits.

Repeated vomiting can also affect the soft tissues of the mouth, impacting the gums and possibly leading to periodontal issues. Gums can also be affected by late night snacking without brushing and rinsing afterwards.

Finally, bulimia and binge eaters also jeopardize tooth enamel by consuming high carbohydrate, high calorie foods that increase oral sugar levels. As we’ve written about previously this month, high sugar levels have a corrosive effect on teeth, particularly the longer the teeth are exposed to sugar.

For readers that suffer from an eating disorder, aside from talking to a medical doctor about your condition you also need to confide in your dentist.  It’s important so your dentist can provide the type of treatment needed to help counteract the damage your eating disorder may have caused.

Wait! We can’t leave on that “glass is half-empty” note. So, remember this: “Optimism is the foundation of courage.” 

Thanks for reading Agent Straight-Talk and this month’s Back to School series, and if you want to make points with your dentist for not flossing enough, let them know you follow us on  FacebookTwitter, PinterestGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Source: WebMD
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Copyright 2014, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC© 

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